Aviation Club de France Raided by Police, Future Unclear

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Early Tuesday morning, more than two-dozen police officers raided the legendary Aviation Club de France (ACF) in Paris, arresting and charging 12 people connected with the iconic gambling establishment.

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The operation was carried out by the French national judicial police under the orders of judges Claire Thepaut and Serge Tournaire. Authorities took the club’s director, Marcel Francisci, into custody along with several employees. Those individuals have been accused of crimes ranging from illegal employment practices to money laundering.

“Police were there by 6am, when there were about 50 people still inside the ACF rooms,” one employee told the press. “Most of them were Chinese players, who also happened to be surveyed by the financial police.”

Francisci is a Corsican politician and the nephew of the elder Marcel Francisci, who was rumored to be a high-ranking mob boss and the mastermind behind the infamous French Connection drug smuggling network. The younger Francisci is rumored to have his own ties to organized crime, while at the same time serving as President of the Association of Friends of [Nicholas] Sarkozy and the Vice President of Air Corsica.

The posh card room was founded as a members-only club in 1907, opening its doors to the public in 1925. In 1995, French gambling legend Bruno Fitoussi introduced Texas Hold’em to the establishment while serving as the club’s director, which quickly grew in popularity. The poker craze that followed also caught the attention of Corsican mobsters, who hoped to exploit casinos offering the cash-heavy games.

Clubs operated by Corsicans are particularly attractive to gangsters due to the archaic laws under which they operate. As a gift for their loyalty during the French Resistance, the government allowed Corsicans to operate casinos exempt from strict regulations such as placing cameras above gaming tables. Large inflows of cash mixed with lax security measures have provided gangs the perfect environment for laundering illegal proceeds.

By 2011, many of the country’s gambling establishments had become so overrun with criminal activity that authorities decided to act. That year, hundreds of officers from Paris’ judicial police raided Le Cercle Wagram and L’Eldo after a year-long investigation into the owners. The next day, 30 suspects were arrested in Corsica, including retired police officers and television actors, in a different gambling-related operation.

The President of the ACF (poker room pictured), Charles Pellegrini, is the former head of an anti-mob squad and will be questioned by police as part of the current investigation.

The recent arrests have some ACF employees worried that the club might suffer the same fate as many others shut down by organized crime investigators. “It’s a blow,” an employee told the press. “It’s done for us! That’s 200 people out of work tomorrow… [The police] came to close the circle, not for a simple control.”

For many years, the venue played host to the prestigious Grand Prix de Paris featured on the World Poker Tour. Drama unfolded in 2004 when two armed men burst into the club and stole around €70,000 from poker players inside. In 2013, Mohsin chicagocards1Charania bested Vasili Firsau to take first place in the tournament along with $469,000. The ACF is not currently scheduled as a stopover on the WPT Season XIII schedule.

Sources told CalvinAyre that the recent raid was not focused on poker, but was part of an investigation into the money flowing through the baccarat tables. They also believe that the ACF will not be the only venue to be hit, as many more raids are planned for the upcoming weeks.

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